2024 Sundance Film Festival Kicks Off With Opening Night Gala


The 2024 Sundance Film Festival has officially kicked off with its annual Opening Night Gala, this year taking place at the DeJoria Center and presented by Chase Sapphire. The gala honors trailblazers, celebrates independent voices, and acknowledges Sundance’s 40 year commitment to independent storytelling. The gala also raises funds to help support grants, programming, and labs throughout the year. 

With no lack of star power, among the presenters of the evening was Robert Downey Jr. presenting the first-ever Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award to Christopher Nolan⁣, following the success of his latest film Opphenheimer. Nolan earned this honor after his breakthrough film, Memento, debuted at Sundance in 2001 and made waves. Earning the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the fest, Memento went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. This year presented by Acura, the annual Vanguard Awards recognize those whose work highlights creative independence in nonfiction and fiction storytelling. 

Upon accepting his award, Nolan expressed he doesn’t think of himself as an independent filmmaker, citing that his work depends so much on the people around him, like the cast, crew, or even the film's distributors. He continued that Sundance is “two weeks or so in which independent filmmaking doesn’t just mean a business model…It means aspirations for filmmakers, directors, writers, actors. You’re treated as artists, you’re given authorship in what you’ve done, and it tells you what you’re supposed to be doing, what your real purpose is.”

Nolan spoke to the “terrible limbo” filmmakers find themselves in while not knowing if their film will ever been picked up and actually seen by an audience, emphasizing the importance of those supporting filmmaking: “These people who saw the film, believed in it and stood by it, those are the people you depend on as a filmmaker. You can’t get anywhere without them.”

Christopher Nolan and Robert Downey Jr. at the Opening Night Gala, presented by Chase Sapphire®. © 2024 Sundance Institute | photo by Michael Hurcomb.

Jesse Eisenberg presented the Sundance Institute Visionary Award to Kristen Stewart, who has had over ten films premiere at Sundance over the last 20 years, as both an actress and director. This year, she doubleheadlines the fest with Love Lies Bleeding and Love Me premiering. 

Upon accepting her award, Stewart told the audience, “My whole life I have loved this festival. I knew that in my bones this was just like a place full of ‘yes’ in a world full of ‘no.’ I couldn’t even understand why, but I knew it.”

Eisenberg, whose sophomore film A Real Pain premieres this weekend, has worked with Stewart on three films, and praised her craft: “Kristen is one of these rare performers where she is so committed, so authentic, so feeling, that you almost want to make sure she’s okay at the end of the day.”

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart at the Opening Night Gala, presented by Chase Sapphire®. © 2024 Sundance Institute | photo by Stephen Lovekin.

Other presenters included Jodie Foster presenting the Sundance Institute Vanguard Award to Maite Alberdi (director of The Eternal Memory), Christine Vachon presenting the Sundance Institute Vanguard Award to Celine Song⁣ (director and writer of Past Lives), and Mary Robinson presenting the Sundance Institute Vanguard Award for Philanthropy to Pat Mitchell.⁣

Chase Sapphire on Main, located at 573 Main Street, will continue to offer unique experiences throughout the fest from January 18-24, offering live musical performances, food, and fun activations. 

Earlier in the day, the doors opened again at the Cinema Café, located at the Filmmaker Lodge (550 Main St.). From Jan 19-25, festival goers can join meaningful insight and diverse conversations at Cinema Café presented by Audible.

Joana Vicente, CEO of Sundance Institute; Kim Yutani, Director of Programming; Eugene Hernandez, Director of Sundance Film Festival & Public Programming, and Jason Blum attend Sundance Scoop on Day One of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. | photo by Breanna Downs.

Blumhouse founder and CEO Jason Blum took stage for the Sundance Scoop event at the Filmmaker Lodge to stress the impact Sundance has on the entertainment industry, emphasizing 80% of the films at the festival are looking for distributors. Last year, the annual festival grossed $118 million in domestic product and just shy of $13 million in state and local tax revenue, along with the industry having a $6 billion impact on film tourism over the past decade.

Guests can head to the Cinema Café for more “thought-provoking encounters” throughout the fest, including a discussion between Jesse Eisenberg (A Real Pain) with Chiwetel Ejiofor (Rob Peace) on Saturday, January 20. 

Jason Blum attends Sundance Scoop on Day One of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. | photo by Breanna Downs.

Check out Sundance’s official website for the full programming of this year’s fest.

All images courtesy of Sundance Institute.